In this cornnnnerrrr: a bright, citrusy competitor, light-bodied but spry and refreshingly complex. And in the corrrrnerrr: a big, bold cuppa Joe, full-bodied and somewhat simple, but remarkably consistent and versatile.
Talking about dark vs light roast coffee can be pretty polarizing. It tends to pit first and second wave traditionalists - those with a coffee-is-coffee, two-creams-and-a-sugar, Dale Cooper-style “damn fine” diner brew, big-chain skinny-mocha-latte types - against third (and fourth??) wave geeky purists - those preparing their coffee in as meticulous a manner as a smart dealer might with a tiny scale, alongside a Japanese grinder and hand-made pour-over funnel, seeking to brew the “juiciest” cup with notes of perhaps fresh stone fruit or Florida oranges.
But what is the actual difference between light and dark roasts and, crucially, which one has more caffeine?? Hinterland investigates!
As you may have guessed, light roast coffee is less roasted than it’s darker-hued counterpart, meaning it sees less time in the roasting drum, lower heat, or both. The shorter time and lower heat make for less moisture evaporation and less oil traveling to the surface of the bean. The beans look dry and light brown in color, and are heavy for their volume. A light roast is often described as “bright” and “acidic”, though importantly the somewhat sour taste is not indicative of a higher acid profile, chemically-speaking. The reason coffee nerds tend to prefer light roasts is because they show nuance: region of origin, growing style and climate are all highly perceptible and left intact during the less arduous roasting process, making it possible to select for a wide variety of interesting tasting notes.
The longer a coffee is roasted, the more uniform in flavor it becomes across regions or growing styles; the roasting process usurps all other variables. Folks that enjoy dark roasts enjoy the uniformly deep, rich, smoky, chocolatey flavors developed during the more intense roasting process, resulting in a bigger-bodied brew particularly well-suited to the addition of creams and/or sweeteners. Dark roasts are the norm across much of the states, particularly the West Coast, as well as Europe (think French and Italian roasts). Dark roasting removes most of the coffee bean’s moisture and brings the oils to the surface, resulting in a dark brown or nearly black, shiny bean that is light for its volume.
Many-a truckstop will have extra-dark roasts labeled as Trucker’s Blend or Red Eye Blend available by the styrofoam cupful. Conversely, hip, white-walled coffee shops will tell you you’ll get more of a jolt from a thin, juicy Ethiopian than trucker’s sludge. So who’s to trust? Turns out, both the grizzled and the bespeckled are onto something. What we can definitively say is that caffeine is neither created nor destroyed during the roasting process. It’s a highly-stable chemical compound that remains the same whether in a pale bean or a coal-black one. The difference in how much of that caffeine makes it into your cup is based on the coffee’s preparation. As we mentioned above, light roast coffees are heavy for their volume, meaning there are fewer beans per gram of coffee because of their higher water content, SO if the coffee preparation favors volume (say, 2 Tbs of grounds per 6 oz of water), you’ll get more caffeine from the denser light roast beans because there are simply *more* ground beans in that scoop. Conversely, if the preparation utilizes mass as a unit of measure (say, 12g of grounds to 6 oz of water), there will be a greater quantity of the less dense dark roast beans per gram resulting in a more caffeinated cup.
The difference, however, is pretty nominal, especially in a cup-sized preparation (we’re talking a difference of something like 2 to 4 beans) so...if you, like us, are a caffeine fiend, rest assured that no matter which roast level you prefer, it will deliver the come-to-Jesus, I-can-live-another-day, brain-fog-clearing, mood-elevating stimulant hit you crave.
Hinterland offers the rare ability to choose your preferred roast level when ordering online, whether for one-off orders or subscriptions. We encourage y’all to try out all sorts of roast levels, paired with a variety of growing regions and find your favorite, and if that all sounds like a loud-a’ nerdy hooey, or if your alignment skews “chaotic”, there’s always Trash Soup (an ever-changing blend of all origins and roast levels we have on hand for a delicious surprise every time!)
As a starting point and little get-to-know-us, here’s our house favorites:
Trinia: Mexican Chiapas, medium roast
Georgia: Guatemalan, dark
Alex: Ethiopian, light
When Hinterland made the decision to transition away from an apparel-centric business model to one that centers coffee, we knew we'd be doing so in a very “Hinterland-esque” way: maintaining our unwavering ethics and commitment to doing the most good and, crucially, least harm possible, both socially and environmentally. Sustainability is complex; it’s hard to create a neat, simple story out of it. As a result, it often fails to entice folx the same way that striking flavor profiles or low prices can.
Conscientious sourcing, whether it be coffee, apparel, or any number of other goods, empowers people, protects the environment, and provides a viable economic opportunity for communities growing or manufacturing the commodity in question.
While our coffee journey is still knee-high to a grasshopper, we did decide from the start to prioritize suppliers that sell organic, fair trade, direct trade, and Café Femenino beans. In the next few blog posts will focus on each designation and explore what it means, why it matters, and, in all self-awareness, how we as consumers can do and demand better.
The USDA Certified Organic designation is one that is perhaps most familiar to many of us since it also encapsulates lots of other food products and consumables. Any crop that is certified organic in the United States is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must adhere to a number of predetermined standards, among them the prohibited use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, proximity of the organic crop to non-organic crops in the vicinity, and certain sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation that prevents soil depletion and erosion.
For the average American consumer, much of the concern over organic produce has to do with the most personally-affecting aspect: avoiding the ingestion of certain chemicals which are perceived to be harmful or whose effects are otherwise unknown. The thing about coffee is this: unlike a strawberry whose 45+ pesticides go down the hatch along with the fruit you intended to eat, conventionally-grown coffee offloads a majority of its residual pesticides during the roasting process, making for a relatively “clean” hot bean juice.
So why choose organic coffee? Because you give a shit about people and places outside of yourself and your immediate proximity. Duh!
Conventional coffee is among the most heavily chemically treated foods in the world. The synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides may not, for the most part, make their way into your cup, but they do saturate the land, air, and waterways, as well as workers’ bodies. Chemicals that kill “weeds, molds, and bugs” have broad-reaching implications for the entire ecosystem in which they are used and all of the biota that interact with them.
Choose organic, when you can, or choose us because we will always choose organic. Not for you (no offense) but for the farmers and their families, for coffee growing regions and surrounding communities. Because when we are well, we are well TOGETHER, from the most vulnerable and impacted on up, or nigh. ☠️
Hinterland underwent a big sea change about a year ago. We cut our teeth as a small business starting in 2013 on screen printing: putting stuff we wanted to wear - our quirky and irreverent original designs - on American-made t-shirts. As the business grew, we branched out to other so-called 'soft goods' as well as stickers, accessories and artist-made housewares and jewelry. In 2017 our friend at Neon Raspberry Art Gallery invited us to share space in their charming brick n’ mortar on the main drag of tiny, picturesque Occidental, CA. Online retail was still our bread and butter but the store provided the conviviality and sense of community we craved. The more folks came to visit the shop, the more we wanted them to stay, to linger and talk and dream and organize for various causes together. That sort of organic, communal experience seemed to favor two types of establishments: bars and cafés. We’re morning people, so...coffee it was.
Aside from the community component, we’re also fervent environmentalists and avid second-hand shoppers. Everything we read and saw spoke to the fact that there’s just too much stuff in the world, particularly in the apparel segment. From carbon emissions and water used in production, to the difficulty of disposing of the ever-growing mountains of last year’s trends, the garment industry is taking its toll on the environment. An immediate and personal solution we saw was taking the focus off of apparel within our little company and shifting it towards consumables. As far as things that can be used up go, coffee was and continues to be our favorite: a true raison d'être and certainly the most enticing lure away from a warm bed on a chilly morning. We’ve also all worked in the coffee industry in various capacities and so understand how very uncomplicated (not to mention needlessly snooty and obfuscated) it truly is. Coffee is simple: source an excellent bean, roast it to a desired level controlling for certain environmental factors (okay, this part is a little complicated), and boom, you got yourself the makings of an excellent cuppa joe.
We’ve got that part down: following the most ethical sourcing practices and roasting micro-batches on our trusty 2 lb roaster, one order at a time. Subscriptions and one-off online sales, as well as the limited retail space we’ve been able to get off the ground in December of 2020 have kept our tiny team afloat in stormy waters, but the dream is much bigger, much more outwardly oriented: we want to create a café for you, for all of us. The deeply hopeful future we envision for this rad old 1914 structure is one of an egalitarian space of belonging. More than just a place to grab a quick stimulant fix, we want to provide a place for good folx to gather, a place where the money stays within a community of shared ethics and common goals. Every bag of coffee you choose to purchase from us gets us one step closer to that hopeful future. We thank you for believing in our vision, for joining our journey and for being a member of what’s congealing into a really amazing and deeply radical family.
Trinia, Georgia & Alex
The Hinterland Crew
Contributions made here by either Trinia, Georgia or Alex.